You almost always knew that Bossier High School's athletic teams would be competitive. The Bearkats were rarely a pushover.
One of the legacies of the 100-year-old school is success in athletics, and so many outstanding athletes that we don't have space to list all that many.
There have been state championship teams in football (two) and boys track and field (three in a row) and some heartbreaking near-misses in baseball, and success in wrestling and perhaps other sports, but boys basketball is the centerpiece of Bossier High athletics.
|In 2016, another basketball state championship|
for the Bossier Bearkats.
Chris White coached the Bearkats to a Class AA runner-up spot in 2005. Then in seven of the past eight years under coach Jeremiah Williams, the Bearkats have played in the state tournament (until expansion, it was known as the Top 28). And that includes four state-championship games.
Count 'em up: 2009 -- Class 4A runner-up; 2011 -- Class 4A champions; 2012 -- Class 3A runner-up; 2016 -- Class 4A champions.
Williams' 2011 team had a 33-2 record and was led by guard Jalan West, who has gone on to a terrific college career -- despite injuries -- at Northwestern State. (He's still there, just awarded an unprecedented injury-waiver seventh year by the NCAA.)
Two years ago, the Bearkats were piddling along with a 14-9 record. Then they won 13 of their last 14 games -- the last three by a total of six points -- and they claimed the big trophy ... again.
In 10 seasons, Williams' teams have won eight district championships and have a record of 296-67, and West is one of a dozen Williams-coached Bossier players to play college basketball.
|Frank Lampkin: coach, principal|
Anyone familiar with Bossier High over the past 70 years knows those names.
Before he was the quiet, dignified and steady school principal for 24 years -- more than double anyone else's tenure -- Lampkin was the Bearkats' basketball coach. His 1949 team was the school's first title contender, the Class 1A runner-up to Many.
McConathy, a college basketball star and brief early years NBA player, was his successor in 1956 and had a powerful program. A few years before he came the respected superintendent of Bossier Parish schools, his Bearkats struck basketball gold.
In 1959-60, Bossier won the Class AAA state championship with a 41-4 record -- the last year before the state tournament began in Shreveport.
That well-rounded Bearkats team was led by a 6-foot-6 stringbean, Cecil Upshaw. I will tell you now that of all the Bossier High athletes, he was my personal favorite. Read on.
The often-told story is that McConathy -- nicknamed "The Hound" -- insisted that the state championship game with always powerful DeLaSalle (New Orleans) be played in the old Bossier High gymnasium, a "bandbox" that, crammed, could hold maybe 600 people.
When it was suggested to McConathy that the game could be moved to, say, Hirsch Youth Center, to accommodate a much bigger crowd, he said he had waited a long time for his team to play for a state title, and he wasn't giving up homecourt advantage.
Bossier won 39-35. We haven't forgotten.
|John McConathy, coach, and George|
Nattin Jr., player (later coach)
Nattin's first Bearkats team, 1962-63, was part of "The Big Three" with Byrd and Fair Park, and Bossier's only losses came to those two rivals. It was the year of "The Big Three," and each of them could have won the state title. But Bossier finished third in the district and missed the playoffs.
With Bill Collinsworth as coach, a big Bossier team -- earning a nickname that stuck for years on all Bearkats teams, "The Jolly Green Giants" -- won a district title in 1964-65. Then Collinsworth's 1967-68 team, second in its district, made a surprising late-season run
all the way to the Class AAA state championship game, only to lose to Al "Apple" Sanders (future LSU star) and Baton Rouge High.
Bossier continued to have strong teams for the next 3 1/2 decades through a succession of good coaches, but after Williams took over, the 'Kats finally returned to the state tournament in 2005. And now it's a mini-dynasty.
Here is why Upshaw is my favorite: Of all the Bossier High athletes, he became -- unless someone suggests differently -- the best-known and most successful at the pro level.
OK, I'm partial because I got to know him a little bit -- wrote about him a few times -- and watched him play basketball and baseball, although a few years after he graduated from Bossier High.
Although his roots were in Spearsville, La., where he showed early promise as an athlete (especially in baseball), he moved to Bossier near his high school years ... and the Bearkats, and eventually Centenary College, benefitted greatly.
He was a heckuva good shooter, a star scorer on a couple of strong Centenary teams that often played major competition in the early 1960s.
But he was an even better baseball pitcher (and a darned good hitter in college and semipro ball). Baseball was his route to the pros.
He became a relief pitcher in the minor leagues -- with a wicked submarine delivery, tall and thin (his college nickname was "Stick") and especially difficult for right-handed batters -- and he was a star for the Atlanta Braves, his best year for a division champion in 1969 and again in 1971 (after he almost cut off his right ring finger in a freak accident early in the 1970 season).
His baseball career and life ended too soon, but he always had his fans, starting in Shreveport-Bossier.
Last season, Bossier was host for its 77th annual Bossier Invitational Basketball Tournament, which dates the event to at least 1940.
That is a lot of basketball. At Bossier, it really is a tradition.
Next: Football memories